October 13, 1997

Orlando Business Journal

By The Numbers

This is no tea party: Tobacco deals from Wonderland

James Kitchens

  1. Florida appears to have hit the tobacco lottery with its recent $11 billion settlement. But watching the events unfurl, I felt like I was watching absurd scenes from a fairy tale. Consider:

  2. Wonderland No. 1: Political pundits thought Attorney General Bob Butterworth would get credit for the tobacco deal, thus propelling him into the governor's race.

  3. However, the governor's right-hand man, Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay, is already eying that job. So, when it all came down to brass tacks, the he-coon governor, who is running for absolutely nothing, took center stage. McKay and Butterworth were nowhere in sight when Gov. Chiles had his great photo opportunity with a group of Orlando children beating up a Joe Camel billboard.

  4. Of course, the children were all home-schooled, and their parents are staunch Republicans.

  5. Wonderland No. 2: The day after the historic settlement was announced, state legislators began brawling over how to spend the money. Many of these same-state legislators have spent the last two years trying to repeal the state law that gave the state the ability to sue the companies in the first place.

  6. Wonderland No. 3: One of the lawyers helping the state said -- with a straight face -- that the legal team should get $1 billion for fees. Another lawyer on the team said he wanted no money, because he believed Gov. Chiles was right, and he wanted to donate his time. (Guess which one got all the press?)

  7. Wonderland No. 4: The whole thing was unnecessary. Here's why: Tobacco companies are already paying the state around $400 million per year in state taxes. It seems to me that if the state wanted more money from them, all they had to do was vote a hike in the cigarette tax.

  8. And, unlike most Tallahassee taxes, this one actually enjoys widespread support. In our statewide poll of 500 voters, 64 percent said they would support an increase in the cigarette tax. Only 32 percent opposed such a tax.

  9. So why didn't state lawmakers take the simple solution? Could it have had anything to do with campaign contributions from tobacco-related interests?

  10. The official story is that raising cigarette taxes would not produce a stable flow of tax money. Why? Because people unable to afford the higher prices would quit smoking, or at least cut down on the number of cigarettes smoked -- and this healthy cho ice, now being publicly sought by Gov. Chiles and dozens of other state officials, would wound the state tax collections. In other words, the good thing would be a bad thing.

  11. You think maybe Alice and the Mad Hatter could explain this to us?

  12. James Kitchens is owner and president of The Kitchens Group Inc., an Orlando-based polling firm.

This is a page in the section entitled Lawyers Make Billions at Expense of Sick and Dying Smokers in the Web site entitled Legal Reform Through Transforming the Discipline of Law into a Science.